A new school year marks a new beginning, filled with determination, optimism, and, unfortunately, sometimes nervousness, dread, or feelings of overwhelm. It’s not uncommon when things start to feel difficult for students to forgo their self-care for academic achievement. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. As we start a new semester, I instead challenge us to prioritize self-care during the school year and discover how to manage a busy schedule while focusing on taking care of ourselves.
Self-care can be defined in many ways, but overall, I think what’s most important is to remember that self-care is subjective, so what you consider self-care may not be the same for the next person. If it brings you sustained joy and well-being, that’s self-care!
For many, self-care during the school year can look different than it does in the summer – you might be managing a more hectic routine, you have increased stress from your academics, and you may be extra tired from increased social interaction. It’s okay if your self-care routine adapts semester to semester or even week-to-week (mine sometimes changes from day to day!). The important thing is to make time for it regularly, however that looks for you. To help you get started, here are some of my go-to tips for prioritizing and integrating self-care during the school year:
Take some time to organize your schedule.
Although it can be daunting to look forward to all of the tasks and stressors you have coming up, it can also be valuable in helping you schedule some time for self-care. A good rule of thumb I’ve found is to place as much importance on a self-care activity as you would on one of your other regular tasks. Doing so will give you something to look forward to each day and help ensure that you aren’t skipping self-care during hectic times (when you might need self-care even more!). For me, this involves using a 24/7 calendar, which helps me see the bigger picture and allows me to block time off for myself. It can be easy to delve into our work and slide our well-being under the rug. That’s why finding time to incorporate both is so important.
Routines and structure play an important role in maintaining mental health, by helping to facilitate focus and productivity, lower stress levels, and overall develop stronger habits. Setting up wake-up and bedtime routines is a great place to start. Doing so will improve sleep habits and set you on a path to developing better overall health. When the school year starts, it can feel easy to shift your routines by the day, depending on the amount of work you may have, or activities that come up. Challenge yourself instead to stick to a routine that helps you feel rested, as you will do your best work and feel most like yourself when you get adequate sleep. If you need help doing so, I’ve found that apps like Fabulous: Daily Habit Tracker can help you start and stay on the right track.
Don’t burn yourself out – find techniques that work for you.
One of the biggest challenges I face in taking care of myself during the school year is not getting overwhelmed or burnt out during busy seasons. The Pomodoro Technique is a great time-management method I’ve used that helps me stay on task without losing steam. It consists of alternating tasks with mini breaks to promote concentration. First, you pick a task and then set a 25-minute timer to start. Once the timer goes off, you begin a five-minute break. After every 5 cycles, increase the length of your break! All you need to get started is a timer, a task, and some determination! During your breaks, take advantage of whatever self-care skill might be most helpful to you – you could do a five-minute mindfulness exercise, stretch, go on a brief walk, color or journal, or even just close your eyes and rest.
Self-care during a new school year isn’t always easy – it can be hard to get into a rhythm, and our well-being is often the first thing to go when times are busy. This year, make a promise to yourself to put your mental health first, and start small, in whatever way you can. I’ll do the same. For more tips on self-care during the academic year, check out Active Minds’ recent YouTube live titled “How to Prioritize Your Self-Care at School” here.